The United States Diplomacy Center, in partnership with the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute, and the Embassy of Australia, hosted a space diplomacy program in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
The event featured Major General Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin, two members of the three-man Apollo 11 mission crew, as well as other senior leaders in the fields of space exploration, research, and diplomacy. It highlighted how the Apollo 11 mission was one of the defining moments of not only the 1960s, but of the 20th century, and how it strengthened American diplomacy. Panelists included U.S. State Department Science Envoy for Space and former NASA Administrator and Astronaut Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, Jr., Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Director and former NASA Chief Scientist Dr. Ellen Stofan, George Washington University Professor and Space Policy Institute Director Dr. John Logsdon, and Air and Space Museum Curator Dr. Teasel Muir-Harmony.
Attendees at the event learned that in 1969, after the successful conclusion of the Apollo 11 mission, the three members of the crew, Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins, went on a 37-day, 24-country goodwill tour of the world called “Giant Step”, promoting the Apollo program and American cultural interests abroad. Neil Armstrong also visited the Soviet Union in May 1970 to tour the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut training center and meet Premier Alexei Kosygin. President Nixon used the diplomatic boost from these goodwill tours to lay the groundwork for U.S. rapprochement with China. This “space diplomacy” would take the astronauts, President Nixon, and ultimately the United States beyond the divide of the Iron Curtain and help further the momentum of détente between the western and eastern blocs.
During her remarks at the event, Assistant Secretary of State for Global Public Affairs Michelle Giuda introduced astronaut Michael Collins and told the audience that after his mission to the moon, President Nixon appointed Collins Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs at the State Department, making her his successor in the role. She expressed appreciation for continuing his legacy and thanked him for his service to the State Department and to our nation.
As much a foreign relations achievement as a technological marvel, Apollo 11 was a soft-power victory for the United States. The White House, the State Department, NASA and the U.S. Information Agency all worked closely together to project an image of Apollo 11 as an American-led, global effort that united the world. Voice of America broadcast live coverage of the lunar landing in 36 languages for an audience of roughly 750 million and another 650 million watched the lunar landing on television, the first live global broadcast in history. The mission was a success and space diplomacy continues to build bridges and strengthen our international partnerships.
About the author: Amir Daneshmand serves as an intern at the U.S. Diplomacy Center at the U.S. Department of State. He is a rising senior at Boston University studying International Relations with a focus on Central Europe, public policy, and security studies. He is from Roslyn, New York.